A seminar on  “Gender and Literacy in Sabah: Eliminating the Gaps” was held on the 21st February 2019 at The Pacific Sutera, Kota Kinabalu. The one-day seminar was organised by the Institute for Development Studies (Sabah), (IDS), in partnership with Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS) and in collaboration with Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS). 180 participants attented the seminar comprising of officials from government departments and agencies, Non-governmental Organisations (NGOs), academicians, representatives from private sectors/corporations and representatives from the media.


The objectives of the seminar are:


  1. Providing platform for effective discussion/collaboration in the effort to find solution to related issues;
  2. Highlighting the importance of achieving gender literacy and ensuring inclusiveness of all sections in the community in the efforts to achieve the SDGs; and
  3. Procuring avenue for establishing network among various related parties.


Key Panelist Forum


The seminar started with a key panelist forum with the theme of Gender Mainstreaming. The key panelists were the guest of honour Y.B. Madam Jannie Lasimbang; Tan Sri Simon Sipaun, Chairman of Institute for Development Studies (Sabah); Mr. Wolfgang Hruschka, Representative of Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS) and Dr. Dayang Suria Hj. Mulia, Senior Lecturer of Faculty of Humanities, Arts and Heritage UMS and IDS CEO, Datuk Dr. Johan Arriffin Abd. Samad was the moderator for the session.


Among the major points and issues highlighted during session include:


  • Gender mainstreaming is the public policy concept of assessing the different implications for people of different genders, on policy actions including legislation and programmes;
  • Extra effort is needed in eliminating gender bias and empowering women at all level of society in Sabah. Awareness program to encourage women to stay in school and pursuing their further education are crucial to increase women participation rate in professional field;
  • Women faced challenges in pursuing higher position jobs as well as to balance the responsibility in the office and with the family. A support system is crucial not only from the government but more importantly from their husband or other family members to encourage women involvement in professional field;
  • Men and women play different role in society. In some communities favouritism towards the son especially in term of inheritance still exists. However the distinction between gender is getting smaller because of literacy and education awareness. Human right is not about man or woman, but rather on qualities of a man and woman. Therefore, occupation merit should be based on qualification and  achievements;
  • The 30% target is yet to be achieved by women in decision making position in Sabah; and
  • Technology (e.g computer literacy) is an enabling tool to help women execute their job at flexible hours, at home and do not have to be physically present in the office.


There were eight papers presented by invited speakers from universities, government department and NGOs. The seminar was divided into two sessions with question and answer at the end of each session. The first paper was a keynote paper presented by Prof. Dr. Noraida Endut, Director of Centre for Research on Women and Gender (KANITA), Universiti Sains Malaysia, followed by four papers in the morning session, Session 1 and another three papers in Session 2. The first session was moderated by Prof. Dr. Hajah Arsiah Haji Bahron, Dean of Centre for Postgraduate Studies UMS while the second session was moderated by Prof. Dr. Hashim Awang, Fellow of Faculty of Humanities, Arts and Heritage, UMS.


Keynote Paper


Prof. Dr. Noraida Endut delivered the seminar’s keynote paper entitled ‘Gender and Literacy in Malaysia: With Implication on Sabah: Legal, Socio-cultural & Political Issues’. In her presentation, she highlighted the meaning of literacy beyond its standard definition in relation to gender equality.  Although women out-power men in terms of education and health, they are still far behind from being literate in political, social and economic empowerment matters. Thus, it is important to further discuss how the lack of literacy affects women in ways that are often overlooked.


Session 1: Gender and Literacy in Sabah: Legal, Social and Cultural Issues


Paper 1: “Legal Literacy and Gender Inequalities: Tilting the Balance”, by Madam Marja Azlima Omar, Senior Lecturer of Faculty of Humanities, Arts and Heritage, UMS


The paper highlighted on legal literacy that acts as a social empowerment by providing awareness for citizens to know their rights and the procedure of bringing a case to court. Generally in Malaysia and Sabah in particular, the judiciary field also confronting gender inequalities, hence, a continuous effort to introduce the Gender Equality Act is crucial.


Paper 2: “Women Rights under Syariah Law: Towards Achieving Gender Parity”, by Madam Noor Azah Abd. Rahman, President of Sabah Muslim Women Lawyers Association (SALWA)


The paper focused on Syariah Law and the rights of women under this said law. Lack of knowledge about Syariah Law creates misconception among people especially by non-muslim communities creating judgements and stereotypes about certain issues without proper guidance. Syariah law is the law according to Muslim faith as derived from Al-Quran and Hadith. It applies only for Muslim in this country.  The rights of women are well protected under Syariah Law. Women are treated equally as men whereby in some cases priorities are given to women. Therefore, legal awareness among women is crucial to protect their rights.


Paper 3: “ Literacy in Health: The Need to Empower Rural Women in Sabah for Better Healthcare”, by Dr. Haryati Abd. Karim, Senior Lecturer of Faculty of Humanities, Arts and Heritage, UMS


The paper presentation emerge from an ongoing study funded by UMS on rural communities and their level of ‘health literacy’ in four study areas which are Ranau, Nabawan, Kota Belud and Beaufort in Sabah. This study examines the factors shaping and hindering health literacy among woman in rural communities. Poverty, limited access to health services, distance, cost of internet, disconnection from information, low level of education and poor health communications are among factors contributing in low health literacy in rural areas of Sabah.


Paper 4: “Gender Gaps in Cultural Studies: Tilting the Balance”, by Prof. Dr. Mohd. Anis Md. Nor, Adjunct Professor of Faculty of Music and Performing Arts, Sultan Idris Education University


The paper elucidated the context of Cultural Studies which seeks to study “cultural texts” based on contextualizing cultural practices which have been affected by historical, political and social changes. Cultural Studies grapples with the volatility of cultural happenings, emphasising self-reflexivity towards an awareness of the social currents in global circulation. Practitioners of Cultural Studies investigate the forces that shape the culture today within and through which socially organised people/communities conduct and participate in the construction of their everyday lives. However, despite the steady progress made towards gender equality in research and academic institutions over the past decade, Malaysian Cultural Studies, particularly in Sabah, is affected by gender gaps wholly or partly due to the locus of study, research opportunities or perceived gender roles, inclusive of intangible and subjective cultural barriers, social class, race and politics of the sexes. The tilt in gender gaps in the field of Cultural Studies may have yet to reach its balance.


Session 2: Gender and Literacy in Sabah: Entrepreneurships, Development and Industrial Revolution 4.0


Paper 5: “Entrepreneurial Literacy in Empowering Women in Rural Areas: Drawing on Experience of Local Champion”, by Assoc. Prof. Dr. Sivapalan Selvadurai, Senior Lecturer of School of Social, Development and Environmental Studies, The National University of Malaysia, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM)


The paper presents the types of entrepreneurial literacy that are required by women from rural areas to succeed  in their enterprises. The paper arose from the research study entitled “Project Modul Local Champions” (AP-2017-004/2), a module preparation for local champions. The local champions are award-winning rural entrepreneurs who were identified by the Rural Development Ministry. For this study, a qualitative semi-structured interview with eight local champions from rural Sabah were gathered. The presentation was concluded with the understanding that entrepreneurial literacy amongst rural women is a necessity to ensure women could capitalise the range of opportunities available in the rural landscape.


Paper 6: “Literacy in Inclusions of Ethnic Minority in Sabah”, by Prof. Dr. Junaenah Sulehan, Director of Institute of Borneo Studies, University College Sabah Foundation (UCSF)


There is a broad spectrum in comprehending the issues of inclusion based on literacy and its impact on people of different ethnicities. It depends on how it is defined, structured and operationalised. Diversity in ethnicity and culture are two pertinent social characteristics of this country; creating multiculturalism as the foundation towards an ideally ‘designed’ concept of Malaysian society. The presentation concluded that literacy is culturally framed and defined; it is the product of social interaction and organisations that subsequently conditioned the people of different race and ethnic to the acquisition of literacy and the activities. Colossal commitment and synergy from various sectors and public policy is crucial in capturing the gaps of literacy of the minority ethnic groups (in term of gender, age, ethnic, strata) in Sabah.


Paper 7:  “Legal Literacy and the Labour Rights of Women Workers in Sabah”, by Madam Morian Paidal from Enforcement Unit, Department of Labour Sabah


The presentation concentrates on Labour Ordinance Sabah (Cap 67) as one of the legislations enforced by Sabah Labour Department. It prescribes the minimum protections of workers on employment, wages, leave entitlement, termination and lay- off benefit, retirement, sick leave and maternity protection. This paper aims to increase awareness of women’s labour rights as laid down in the national legislation and collective agreements, empower women workers to improve their employment situation and improve legislation as well as enforcement of laws protecting women’s labour rights.


In general, the seminar was held successfully and achieved its overall objectives in creating awareness and provide avenue to discuss the importance of literacy in legal, social, cultural, health, entrepreneurship and developmental issues as part of the nation’s preparation to embrace Industrial Revolution 4.0. The response from the participants indicated their keen interest in the topics discussed as shown by the interactions during question and answer sessions. It is hoped that more related seminar could be organised in the future to help strengthen policies and programs supporting women and more involvement from men to be educated and exposed on gender issues.


Siti Farizan Binti Omar & Hajah Royaini Matusin

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